Three Reasons Your Nonprofit Brand Is Still “The Best Kept Secret”

5 min read

I talk to five to ten nonprofit marketers a week, and one of the most common things I hear is, “If only people knew about our impact … we’re the best kept secret in __________.” Some of you even say, “I just can’t hear the words ‘we’re the best kept secret’ anymore.” 

So why is it that your nonprofit’s brand resonates with those who know you, but it feels like most have never even heard of your organization?

At Prosper Strategies, our dream would be for nonprofit brands to be as highly revered for solving multi-billion dollar global crises as their for-profit counterparts are for making multi-billion dollar profits. That’s why we spend so much time on educating organizations about nonprofit marketing’s importance, the role it should play, and who should be involved. 

Nonprofit brands flying under the radar is a sector-wide issue. While many organizations are treating nonprofit marketing and branding as the core mission drivers they are, others still view them as overhead. If this is your nonprofit, and you haven’t stumbled on Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” I encourage you to take less than 20 minutes to watch it. 

Undervaluing nonprofit branding and marketing is an issue many nonprofits face, but it’s not the only reason your organization is still “the best kept secret.” 

Reason 1: Nonprofit brand and marketing are not viewed strategically

The biggest overarching reason that your nonprofit brand remains shrouded under a veil of secrecy is because marketing isn’t recognized as an integral tool for bringing your strategic plan to life. Organizations that have the most success with their nonprofit branding and marketing initiatives typically have a direct marketing-related goal in their strategic plan. This can be something as broad as increasing the nonprofit’s brand awareness to as narrow as rebranding the organization. When marketing initiatives make it into the strategic plan, they are valued by the organization overall.

The biggest overarching reason that your nonprofit brand remains shrouded under a veil of secrecy is because marketing isn’t recognized as an integral tool for bringing your strategic plan to life. Click To Tweet

If your strategic plan does not include nonprofit brand or marketing initiatives, as a nonprofit marketer, you can and should still play a significant role in supporting your strategic plan, and now is a great time to start planning for 2020. Review all of the goals and objectives your organization has defined in your strategic plan for the coming years and list out the ways that nonprofit branding and marketing could support each. At this point in the process, dream big. I’ll share how to select your marketing goals next.

Reason 2: Too many nonprofit brand and marketing priorities

A second reason your organization is still the best kept secret is because your marketing and nonprofit brand priorities are not focused, and likely, you’re being pulled in a million different directions. You’re a marketer, you’re a fundraiser, you’re a graphic designer and copywriter. This program officer needs you to do this, the events team needs you to do that, your CEO would like your support writing talking points. When this is the case, it’s difficult to do any one thing well, but more importantly, you’re not making measurable marketing or nonprofit brand impact because your time, energy and efforts are being divided in too many directions.

So how can you prioritize as a nonprofit marketer? Once you’ve brainstormed all of the ways nonprofit branding and marketing can support your nonprofit’s strategic plan, take an inventory of your organization’s team, tools, budget and resources. This will give you a picture of what you and your team can actually accomplish, so you can begin narrowing down your brainstormed list of activities and setting your marketing goals. A good rule of thumb is to have around two marketing goals for every one member of your marketing team. Once you’ve selected your nonprofit branding and marketing goals, develop your marketing plan to support these goals. With your marketing goals and plan in hand, when a colleague comes to you with an outside request, revisit the marketing plan with them to determine how (if at all) it fits in and what other priorities might have to shift and change.

Reason 3: Limited nonprofit brand cohesion

A final reason your organization might still be the best kept secret is because there is a lack of nonprofit brand cohesion. Everyone is talking about your nonprofit in their own way, so there’s no consistency in how people describe what your nonprofit does. This is often the case if your organization’s mission or scope of services has changed over the years or your nonprofit has a number of employees who all talk about your nonprofit differently.

If this is happening at your organization, this might be the right time to revisit your nonprofit brand, and particularly your key messages. Key messages serve as a set of guideposts individuals can use to personalize the way they talk about your nonprofit, while still maintaining consistency and cohesion. If your organization has more than a dozen employees or you fear people will not understand the value of key messages or use them, consider putting together a key message training. By providing your diverse range of stakeholders with the tools, training, support and encouragement they need, everyone can become a powerful brand ambassador for your nonprofit.

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